2022-09-02

Vorder Feldschijen Turm III (2828m) via Westgrat, 6a+, 430m

Sasha and I drove up to the remote Göschenen valley to climb on the Feldschijen. The guide book praises the West ridge route as one of the most beautiful granite climbs, on par with the famous Salbit ridges. The only fly in the ointment is a two hour approach. Now Sasha is a well trained endurance monster, regularly going on 100+km bike rides and spending most weekends on the rock. Not to mention his Eiger-Northface-in-a-Day (!) ascent. Poor ole dad bod me had a hard time keeping up. We still made it to the base in the time allotted by the guide book, so I guess I'm not quite retired just yet.

Cool art at a highway reststop.
On the approach.
You can see almost the entire route from the approach.

I got to lead the first pitch: a beautiful 5c+ following a series of cracks and flakes. Not trivial, not hard - perfect plaisir climbing. We alternated leads and quickly got into an efficient rhythm. It's a long route of some 14 pitches and 430m of elevation gain. As a ridge, the interesting steep pitches are interspersed with more mellow traverses. These we ended up linking together and simulclimbing as blocks of 2-4 pitches.

First pitch. Beautiful flakes and cracks.
Sasha coming up.
Hanging out.

When the route got rebolted the restaurateurs decided to change its line slightly and stick to the direct approach up the ridge instead of an easier detour around the back. This made the climb slightly harder, 6a instead of 5c, but the reward is by far the most beautiful stretch of the entire route! Razor sharp ridge. Great exposure to either side. But always just enough holds to make the climbing pure joy. Amazing!

Backlit Sasha.
A cruising 4b crack. The easier pitches were still fun on this route!
A traverse.

Sasha got to lead the crux pitch of the route: a 6a 3pa (6a+). 3pa implying that you are expected to cheat by pulling on/stepping on gear for three moves. It took a bit of puzzling, but Sasha ended up climbing it in good style without using any aid. Chapeau! Especially as I was struggling with the overhanging off-balance move even as a follower.

Duelling photographers.
Getting steeper again.
Setting out on the money pitch: the 6a ridge.

After that was done, it was easy cruising terrain all the way to the summit. A single quick rappel got us back down to the saddle. The climbing barely took us 3.5h. Not too shabby, considering the length of the route, my current lack of training and the posted time of 4h+ in the guidebook.

Glorious! All along the razor's edge ridge, with dramatic exposure on either side.
Sasha on the last few moves of the ridge pitch.
View to the other side.

For the way back the recommendation is to bring good shoes. For good reason. It's a steep scree slope interspersed with some massive boulders. Again Sasha was charging ahead - despite his declaration that he'd take it slow because he had just gotten stitches removed from his shin - the consequence of loose rocks in terrain just like this cutting him to the bone on an outing a few weeks ago. Anyway. We make it back down to the proper hiking trail in good time. And stop dead in a traffic jam of goats. There are some 200 of them living up this alp and they were all marching down in single file with us. Overtaking on the narrow and steep path was difficult. You'd get the best opportunity whenever the animals would make one of their (frequent) stops to scratch themselves. I've tried pushing some out of the way, but they turned out to be stubborn, sturdy as rocks and not at all in a hurry. So I contended myself with a goat herder's pace and we made it back to the car exactly 8 hours after we left it in the morning. Fantastic day!

Sasha just past the crux of the 6a+ pitch. Harder than it looks!
The summit book dates back to the year 2000.
Summit selfie.
Our taste of Half Dome's "Thank God Ledge". Not quite as dramatic, but at this point we were also unroped and it was *very* steep and *very* far down...
A long descent over loose boulders and scree.
The bridge was closed for human traffic ;-P
Stuck in a traffic jam for the walk back down.

2022-08-14

Alpspitz (1996m) to Drei Schwestern (2052m) via Kuegrat, ~35km, +2200m

Ventsi is on some kind of fitness rampage. Becoming a gym buff and ramping up the amount of elevation gain he covers on day hikes. 1000m, 1500m, 2000m, ... until he started running out of hiking buddies that would join him. So he texted me at work whether I'd be interested in going on a hike of at least 2500m elevation gain with him. Sure thing.

My reaction when Ventsi contacted me about a hike.
Vaduz Castle, home of the Liechtenstein royal family.
On top of the first observation tower on the way up. After I jolted myself awake by touching an electric fence.

I didn't actually plan an itinerary, just sort of eyeballed the map for fun looking ridges that I hadn't done yet. So all I told Ventsi was that we'd "hike Liechtenstein". We drove to Vaduz and parked the car at the (free!) lot at the monarch's castle. From there we had two options for getting to the ridge - a mellow trail and the "Fürstensteig", an exposed path cut into a steep rock face. I had already done the former (in winter), so I was keen on trying the latter this time around, even if it meant a slight detour to the summit and backtracking some of our steps. This proved to be the right call! We started out on a beautiful path through the forest, sheltered from the sun by the dense canopy of trees. To the point that it felt like twilight at times. Then the trail opened up straight into a steep limestone wall with great views and daring passages. I can't help but admire the audacity of whoever envisioned a trail in terrain like this. A ton of manual labor went into cutting the steps, bridges and ladders.

The trail was quite exposed over long stretches. Easy hiking, but falling would be ill advised.
If you squint you can see our trail cutting through this image. You have to admire the audacity to look at terrain like this and envision a walking path through it!
One of many summits on the way.

By the time we gained the summit it was hot and humid. We only stayed long enough for a small snack before continuing along the long trail on the ridge, ticking many summits along the way. Beautiful vistas spanning Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Austria and Germany rewarded us. On one of our summit rests we listened to cheering crowds echoing up the mountain from the Sunday soccer game in the Rheinpark stadium - several kilometers away down in the valley.

The trail ahead.
Some scrambling required.
White-Blue-White trail markers for parts of the way.

We reached the Drei Schwestern, the last few prominent peaks on the ridge. There we had a choice: we could either be completionists and continue over hilly unexciting meadows to finish the entire ridge. This would have brought us to down do Frastanz in Austria, significantly complicating the logistics for our return home. Or we could head straight back down towards Planken in Liechtenstein. In the end the colorful sunshades of the Gafadurahut made all the difference and lured us down the direct path back to Liechtenstein. It was hot and humid and we were both running with sweat. Each of us carried 2.5l of water when we started, but we both ran dry a long time ago. So we were parched and the thought of a chilled coke in the shade was simply too hard to resist. At the end of the day we drank 6-7liters each, with a single pee break in between ;-P

Ventsi.
Some via-ferrata-like sections.
Cool way to build stairs: jam logs between the rocks.

Coming down the mountain we loosely planned to find public transportation back to our car parked at the castle. However, we had a good conversation going, were freshly hydrated and it looked like there'd be a nice trail traversing the entire mountain range back to our starting point. So we spontaneously decided to close a full loop on foot. In the end this meant we covered about 35km and 2200m of elevation in an 11 hour outing. Not quite the 2500m Ventsi challenged me to, but nevertheless a great hike for the both of us. And while it might not have been the desired endurance/cardio challenge, it was a challenge in a different way: this was Ventsi's first time on such T4 scrambling trails. So he did get to expand his horizon in different ways ;-P

Views into Austria and Germany. Lake Constance in the distance.
Ventsi holding up the arch.
Approaching the hut where we vaporized a liter of Coke in seconds.
Paraphrased: "You believe the hunter to be a sinner because he dosn't attend church. A look towards the sky in the lush forest is better than a false prayer." Amen ;-P

2022-08-12

Undertalstock (2799m), via "Oktober Sunna", 6b+, 170m

Luigi and I drive up the Sustenpass where we meet up with Felipe and Leslie (who live nearby in Andermatt!). Our goal is a granite spire and ridge up to the Undertalstock (2799m). Hiking in is a bit sobering - we've been in the area at the same time last year and there was way more snow then. This year's draught leaves only a sea of rock.

Approach. We'll climb the tower on the left.
Some scrambling on the approach.
Off to a steep start!

Luigi and I choose the route "Oktober Sunna", graded 6b+. Felipe and Leslie go for the neighboring "Ostwand", 5b+. The routes are barely 10m away from one another and merge up again after the first 70m of climbing. Thus this setup allows for a nice joint climbing experience. Felipe gets me hook line and sinker when he gives a life-like imitation of a goat's cry. At that point he's just out of sight around the corner and the accoustics are such that to everybody's delight I absolutely believed hearing a real animal. Joke's on them though as a few hours later, on our rappel, we do in fact meet a capricorn in the middle of the steep rock face ;-P

Felipe and Leslie in the neighboring route.
Leslie on the sharp end.
Luigi leading the crux pitch.

It's a clean on-sight for all of us and super fun climbing on beautiful granite. Thoroughly enjoyable experience all around. If there's anything to complain about, it would be that the route could have been a bit longer. The difficulties are concentrated on the first one hundred or so meters before it turns into an easy ridge scramble. But then the first two pitches really did pack a punch - protection is sparse and the grading stiff.

Hanging out on the summit.
Luigi's impression of a bad ass mountaineer.
Felipe.

We have beers at a hut right next to the pass road and admire a cyclist who's absolutely racing up the pass. No idea how one can maintain that kind of speed on such an incline. Chapeau. Luigi and I head back to Zürich where we meet up with the wives and kids who spent the day at the Badi at lake Zürich. After a quick swim it's time to end the day at a beautiful pop-up outdoor pizza place in Horgen. Great day!

Compare the (lack of) snow in the background to the same time last year.
Scrambling along the ridge.
Summit selfie.
This guy was happily running around our rappel line. Impressive.
Don't slip.
Sheep.
Beers while watching the action on the pass. Including a crazy fast cyclist sprinting up-hill.
Luigi performing unspeakable acts of cruelty to an inflatable kid's toy.
Lake Zürich.